Celebrating wonderful life and achievements of Helen Keller

image of Helen Keller

June 27th is Helen Keller Day!

By Peter Clarridge Bowler

Today celebrates the wonderful life and achievements of Helen Keller, a deafblind activist for those who have disabilities across the world during the first half of the 20th century.

Helen Adams Keller was born June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia Alabama, both she and her family lived on a homestead Ivy Green which had been built by her paternal Grandfather some decades earlier.

At the age of 19 months old, Helen contracted scarlet fever and was rendered both totally blind and deaf. much of Helen’s early childhood was a deeply confusing and frustrating time unable to communicate with her family and finding it difficult to understand the world around her.

Only really able to communicate by very simple gestures as a child, for example, if she wanted someone to follow her to a place in the house, she would pull them and if she wanted to be left alone, she would push you away. if she wanted Ice cream; she would shiver to try and indicate that.

At age 8 Helen would be introduced to her lifelong teacher and friend, Anne Sullivan.  Anne a graduate of the Perkins School of the Blind in 1886, had a very difficult childhood herself. At the age of 7 contracted trachoma, which left her nearly totally blind. after a number of operations some failures and some successes, she was left with some partial but useful Vision. when she began attending Perkins School for the Blind, she met and befriended Laura Bridgman, a fellow student and graduate of Perkins, who also happened to be Deafblind. the friendship between both Anne and Laura allowed Anne to learn tactile sign language.

When Anne first met Helen, she realized the monumental task ahead of her. Over the coming months, the early months of Helen’s learning were difficult as she couldn’t understand that every object had a name.

Eventually, a breakthrough was made, while Anne, had water running over Helen’s hand while signing the word water into the other, Helen began to understand and became excited to learn more.

After many months of learning how to sign and read/write its braille counterpart, Helen knew well over 500 different signs and their braille spellings.

Helen Keller wrote about this in her autobiography named; The Story of My Life, discussing her formative years and learning how to communicate; Helen’s formal education began in 1888 when she started to attend the Perkins Institute for the blind,  with the help of Anne Sullivan.  then in 1894 she and Anne moved to New York City to attend the Wright-Humason School for deafblind.

In 1904 Helen became the first woman who was deafblind to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Determined to be able to communicate with others as much as possible, with the aid of Anne Sullivan she was able to learn speech and over her lifetime was able to write and deliver public speeches.

Helen was passionate and determined to get people with disabilities equal rights and opportunities.

Anne Sullivan was her constant companion throughout all her adventures and political activism up until Anne’s death in 1936.

Helen had a number of companions aiding her after Anne’s death.

Helen started and founded a number of policies/political parties over her life in the United States, doing progressive works that would lead to many positive changes, even many years after her death.

Over the years she traveled all over the world, speaking to world leaders and being an advocate for people across the globe right up until her health began to fail in 1961 and then she passed away in 1964, leaving a wonderful and huge mark on history.

In honour of Helen Keller Day, we at the Vision Ireland would like to mention all the different ways that we support and empower people who are deafblind.

We offer training and advice for different types of accessibility tools and equipment that could make everyday life easier and more accessible.

For example:

  • Braille displays/notetakers
  • Computer ‘technology training
  • Digital magnifiers
  • Screen readers and screen magnifiers
  • Braille training/support

Peter, one of our technology trainers, works closely and regularly with deafblind service users and provides one-to-one support using their preferred method of communication.